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In Britain a poor household is officially defined as one with an income less than 60 per cent of the median. A law passed by the last government declares an unattainable target of reducing the proportion of children who live in poor households to below 10 per cent by 2020.

No surprise, therefore, that in today's austere circumstances Iain Duncan Smith, the UK's work and pensions secretary, has attempted to start a debate about the definition of poverty. But his motives are not entirely cynical: Mr Duncan Smith has a record of real social concern.
因此,在如今提倡节俭的大环境下,英国就业与养老金大臣伊恩•邓肯•史密斯(Iain Duncan Smith)提议重新讨论贫困家庭的标准,也就不足为奇了。但邓肯•史密斯作此提议并非完全出于怀疑一切的动机:从此人过去的所作所为来看,他是真正关心社会问题的。
People who struggle to find enough food to eat are poor. The World Bank's poverty line is an income of less than $1.25 a day. Financial Times readers, who spend more than that amount on their morning newspaper, are in no position to dispute that judgment. In the past two decades, economic growth in China and India has reduced global poverty by an unprecedented amount. That achievement is not diminished because some individuals in both these countries have become very rich. Fundamentally, poverty is about absolute deprivation.
如果一个人拼命赚钱,却只能勉强填饱肚子,这个人就是穷人。世界银行(World Bank)对于贫困的标准是:日收入低于1.25美元。买一份晨报都不止花这么多钱的英国《金融时报》的读者们,是没有资格对这个标准提出异议的。过去20年里,随着中国和印度经济的增长,全球贫困人口数量出现了前所未有的减少。这一成就不会因为这两个国家出现了一些超级富豪而被贬低。从本质上来说,贫困就是一无所有。
That is clearly not the end of the story, however. On the World Bank standard no one in North America or western Europe is poor. And very few people in these continents do not have enough to eat. We might observe that obesity is a disease not of the rich but of the poor. In making such a statement, we endorse the notion that poverty is relative not absolute. That principle is enshrined in the UK definition, which rises with the general standard of living.
The median income is the level that equal numbers of people are above and below, so that a rise in Sir Martin Sorrell's bonus does not lead anyone into poverty – that would confuse poverty and inequality. But the choice of median income as a reference level has a wider significance. It encapsulates the idea that in a rich society, poverty is an enforced inability to participate in the everyday activities of that society. You might therefore be poor if you lack access to antibiotics or Facebook, even though in this respect you are no worse off than the Sun King or John D. Rockefeller, and in other respects considerably better off than most people in the world.
收入中值的含义是,社会上收入高于和低于这个数值的人的数量相等。因此,苏铭天爵士(Sir Martin Sorrell)多拿了些奖金并不会增加贫困人口的数量——贫困和社会不公是不可混淆的两个问题。但选择收入中值作为参考值,则具有更广泛的影响。这个标准蕴含了一种思想:在富裕社会,贫困意味着被剥夺了参与社会日常活动的能力。按照这个标准,如果你用不起抗生素、上不了Facebook,可能就算得上贫困,即便在这个方面,你的处境并不比"太阳王"(Sun King)路易十四和约翰•D•洛克菲勒(John D. Rockefeller)差,而在其他方面,你的处境已经比世界上大多数人都要强得多。
However, to define poverty as social exclusion takes the definition far away from the assessment of income. It is not hard to imagine places in which few, if any, people experience a sense of exclusion. These might include both sophisticated societies with high incomes per head – towns in Scandinavia – and simple cultures without access to modern essentials – rural villages in the developing world. Poverty becomes a cultural and political phenomenon rather than an economic one.
Mr Duncan Smith and the Centre for Social Justice, the think-tank he founded, wish to encourage this perspective. The poverty of a household trapped by drug addiction will probably not be eliminated by extra income. Poverty as exclusion from ordinary life may be caused by weak parenting skills, debt from financial incompetence or mental health problems. On the positive side, employment and family life are the most powerful forces of social inclusion.
邓肯•史密斯和他创立的智囊机构社会公平中心(Centre for Social Justice)希望鼓励这种看法。因吸毒而陷入贫困的家庭,即便收入增加可能也无法摆脱贫困。被隔绝在社会正常生活之外的那种贫困,原因可能包括父母管教无方,生活拮据导致欠债,或是精神问题。从积极的方面来看,工作和家庭是推动人们融入社会的最佳方式。
These arguments lead too quickly to the view of poverty traditionally espoused by the well-to-do: poverty is the result of the moral failings of the poor and to assist them will only aggravate their plight. Sadly, policies to alleviate poverty cost money, but understanding the multiple facets of poverty is a necessary guide to how that money is best spent.
The statutory adoption of a particular statistical definition of poverty is the product of Gordon Brown's era of target setting. The emphasis on supposedly objective measures led to expenditures on schemes – notably the child tax credit – designed to be closely related to the target itself. That kind of distortion arises whenever a single metric is used to describe a multifaceted complex phenomenon such as the incidence of poverty.
戈登•布朗(Gordon Brown)喜欢设立目标,为贫困赋予某种统计学上的定义、并赋予这种定义法律地位,这正是布朗时代的产物。出于对这些据称十分客观的衡量标准的重视,制定计划、进而大笔支出便成为在所难免之事(尤其是像为儿童免税这样的计划),而之所以制定这些计划,则往往与目标本身紧密相关。当人们用单一的标准来评判一种复杂多面的现象(比如贫困)时,就会产生这种扭曲。
You need advisers who understand the numbers, but also advisers who understand the poor.